Competing at the Olympics is something many of us dream about in our youth. But that’s where the aspiration usually remains; in our dreams. However, as this year’s Rio Olympics quickly dawn on us, there’s one hard-working Mallee girl who will be showing us that dreams really can become a reality.
Swan Hill Olympians are few and far between, but at just 23 years old, Swan Hill resident Tessa Lavey will not only be representing Australia in the basketball at the Olympic Games, she will be showing the world what athletes from country Victoria can do.
On Tuesday, when she was announced in the Opals final team of twelve, the young Perth Lynx captain couldn’t believe it. ‘I realised the dream was going to come true and I was so excited and nervous all at the same time. It’s just crazy what I’m about to experience.’
As the second youngest in the squad, Tessa will be playing alongside several of her childhood idols; an idea that is inconceivable for most of us. ‘I watched Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips play when I was a kid. I look to see how the older players hold themselves out there. It’s crazy to think that I’II be playing alongside them, but really exciting at the same time.’
For Tessa the dream began with a simple lifesaver icy pole. When she was eight years old she decided that she would like to play basketball like her older brother. However, when her and her dad pulled up at the busy basketball stadium on her first night, nerves engulfed her and she refused to get out of the car. ‘Dad was like “what if I buy you an icy pole if you come inside?” I was like “okay.” So we ended up getting an icy pole and that was the best decision of my life. I swear!’
The icy pole may have extinguished her doubts, but her determination and passion for sports raged fiercely. She played everything from tennis, netball, futsal, indoor futsal and Little Athletics. ‘I did everything possible that I could do. I just loved running around really.’
Her talents were certainly not limited to the basketball court, and as a state cross country champion also, she was forced to make a decision between these two sports in her mid teens. ‘I didn’t like some aspects of individual sports, so I decided to choose a team sport where I had more friends. I guess I made the right decision now.’ An obvious team player, Tessa made a wise decision, and one that all of Swan Hill will now be grateful for as we anticipate the upcoming Rio Olympics.
Tessa was born in Swan Hill and spent her Primary School years growing up in the Mallee, however, she and her family moved to Casterton when she was in Year 7. Monavae College was a reputable College with ample sporting opportunities, so that’s where she remained until she moved to Bendigo to do Year 11.
However, that’s when her basketball career took a staggering turn and she was given the opportunity of a lifetime. In 2009 Tessa was offered a scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra, while her family moved back to Swan Hill. She completed her final year of schooling there and was able to really hone in her basketball for the next two and a half years.
This opportunity was definitely the influential cog of change in her mindset. ‘I didn’t really realise I could be a professional athlete until I moved to the AIS. I hadn’t even heard of the AIS before they offered me a scholarship. So when I moved there and realised how many people took it so serious, I thought that maybe I could have a go at it, and if it doesn’t work out, then that’s alright. So I just stayed and had a crack. Now I’m here. It all happened really quickly.’
But Tessa’s true love – her family – is what she believes secured her ticket to Rio next month. Without the support of her dedicated parents over the years, driving her all over the countryside, it certainly wouldn’t have been possible. Tessa claims, ‘if you have a dedicated and supportive family, the sky’s the limit for any country kid.’
And that’s exactly why her and her boyfriend Lincoln made the decision to move back to Swan Hill while she captained the Perth Lynx side. ‘I wanted to share this experience with my family and so we decided to move home. I made a conscious effort of coming back home and being able to share it with everyone.’ For Tessa, her Swan Hill home with her family is certainly where her heart is.
It goes without saying that Tessa’s love for sports stemmed from her family’s influence. All keen sport fans, her mum and dad played footy and netball for Lalbert- not to mention her grandpa who actually won Lalbert’s first flag. Tessa playfully jokes, ‘apparently they were alright. So they say. They keep having a competition “oh that’s from me. You get that from me” and “no, no, that’s from me.” I’m lucky mum and dad loved their sports.’ This carried on to her brothers who are also keen sportsmen, with one still playing country football for Ultima and the other in Balranald.
Growing up in a household with four older brothers, Tessa had no choice but to be tough. She says ‘it was crazy growing up with four brothers, but I would never change it for anything. They challenged me every day, but I loved every minute of it.’ It is likely that she could attribute her determination to her older brothers, but on the other hand, she also had four fierce body guards. ‘When I first got my boyfriend I think he got three death threats from my brothers.’
However, being an Olympian is not all smooth sailing. Tessa has had to make many difficult sacrifices along her journey. ‘I missed one of my brother’s weddings. I missed a heap of stuff with family such as birthdays- a tonne of stuff that.’ With a rigorous training schedule of shooting, gym sessions, team training and games, she has missed out on regular things that most teenagers take for granted such as doing your deb, going out on weekends and spending time with family. ‘My family have always been very supportive though,’ she reiterates.
So for all our budding young Olympians in Swan Hill, Tessa says, ‘take every opportunity that comes your way and just have fun while you’re doing it. That’s what makes it easy to work hard.’ Wise words; enjoy what you do and you will thrive. ‘As a kid I always enjoyed my sports and made it fun. That definitely helped me. I enjoy working hard. I enjoy pushing myself to the absolute limit.’ Tessa admits that city kids do get more opportunities, but not one to dwell on circumstances she reminds us that, ‘as long as you feel like you want to get something out of it and have fun along the way, you can do anything you want to do.’
As Tessa and her team mates spend a week of light training and recuperation at their homes after a hectic few weeks of selection and training camps, she ponders the challenge ahead. ‘Within ourselves I believe we have a strong belief in what we can do and I think anything can happen at the Olympics for us. We’re very excited about that.’ Clearly a silver medal chance in the media’s eyes, Tessa is cautiously optimistic. ‘I don’t want to say we are going to come back with gold or anything, but it’s certainly one of our goals. We can’t forget the process of getting there and with Brazil first – the home court – it’ll be tough. We’re looking forward to the challenge and everything that comes along with it.’
After a week at home, Tessa and her team mates set off for America next Thursday. Here they will play three practice games, with the final stop in Rio where they will prepare for their first match against the home side Brazil on Sunday 7th August.
So as Tessa prepares to make her Olympic debut in just a few weeks time, the whole of Swan Hill will be watching with eager eyes. Not only has she made our regional town proud, but she will be inspiring many other country kids to pursue their passions and dreams along the way. A rare feat in itself.
Who would have thought that a lifesaver icy pole would result in an Olympic basketballer over a decade later? So next time you don’t want to get out of the car, think of Tessa Lavey and her journey to the Olympic Games…
Good luck Tessa and the Opals. We are with you all of the way!!!